Virtual desktops

Virtual desktops

"The rubber still isn't hitting the road in terms of good case studies or compelling reasons why users are going to fall over themselves." - itX's Greg Newham

"The rubber still isn't hitting the road in terms of good case studies or compelling reasons why users are going to fall over themselves." - itX's Greg Newham

The death of PCs?

Virtual desktops are being touted as a way of delivering applications to any user via any device. So does this brave new mobile world mean curtains for the humble PC? ARN recently brought together a panel of industry professionals to hear their views.

Brian Corrigan, ARN (BC): What are the key benefits of virtual desktop technologies?

Rob Willis, Citrix (RW): When we talk to customers there are different drivers but the one where we are seeing the most rapid take-up is where people are doing work remotely or offshore and companies want to deliver the desktop securely. The other one we’re seeing is companies with a lot of desktops that are driven by cost, green IT or security concerns to do something differently.

Mark Mackaway, Datacom (MM): Everybody is testing the market at the moment so we’re seeing small sales within large companies that are trying to work out where it fits and assessing the hype versus reality.

Frank Mulcahy, Sonnet (FM): One of the big opportunities for virtual desktop is to smash the standard operating environment [SOE] management piece once and for all. Companies that have seen their fleet grow over the years want to simply manage a small number of SOEs rather than the many they’ve got today. Virtualisation allows you to split into layers so you have the base operating system with a separately managed suite of apps and local settings; to be able to do that and deploy it to any desktop simply is a big win for a lot of our clients. At the moment they’re just dipping their toes in the water because it’s a paradigm shift that requires a significant amount of capital investment.

Craig Taylor, Lucida (CT): We’ve got quite a lot of traction from customers that have gone down the thin client model with published desktop but found it isn’t suitable for many of their users for all the reasons why the thin client model wasn’t working. They’ve grabbed hold of this idea as a missing link from thin client through to their users. Having said that, we spend a lot of time trying to explain to customers what virtual desktop means because there’s still a lot of confusion.

Mark Little, Gen-i (ML): I think that’s our goal as independent integrators because we can go in and explain in real terms how it applies to particular clients, and how it fits into their BCP [business continuity planning] and DR [disaster recovery] strategies, as opposed to just focusing on the technology and its deployment options.

CT: A lot of them are also seeing it as a natural extension because they’ve been through all this server virtualisation and are comfortable with that concept so they’re ready for the next step. If you start conversations that way, you quickly find there’s some interest.

BC: Is Craig [Taylor] right to say thin client hasn’t worked and, if so, does desktop virtualisation offer companies like Wyse another crack at it?

Ward Nash, Wyse (WN): Thin clients account for 6 per cent of global desktops so you could ask why they’re such a small part of the market if they’re so great. It’s a question that has been asked for years but the difference was always that you couldn’t do on a thin client what you can do on a PC. If users couldn’t do what they wanted, then they didn’t want a thin client. What’s happened in the last nine months is that USB peripherals have allowed you to plug your Blackberry or iPod into a thin client. As we get closer to what a PC can do, we think that 6 per cent will go up. Will it ever be 100 per cent? Probably not but if it were 20 per cent I’d be super happy and driving a Ferrari. The difference as far as pilots go is that to get a whole bunch of applications to work in a shared services model was very difficult. If you wanted to get a pilot up and running, sometimes you had to port applications and get them to work together. With virtual desktop you can take a bunch of applications and stick them in a virtual machine – it might not do everything you want but you can certainly get something up and running very quickly. We’ve never been able to do that before. That means we’re able to go back into organisations and have another shot.

RW: It would be wrong to tie virtual desktops and thin clients too tightly together. While a lot of the work going on is around thin clients, the proliferation of different types of devices is another driver for virtual desktops because you can get it on an iPhone or put a Vista desktop on a Mac. Those are the things that are driving adoption.

Kevin McIsaac, IBRS, (KM): For clients I’ve spoken to, it’s not about moving to thin clients or even virtual desktops; it’s the idea of taking today’s image, which is an SOE, and getting away from that entirely to deploy operating systems separately from user data, user preferences and applications. If you move to that model, what lands on your desktop is essentially stateless. What matters then is how you tear the image apart so you can just run this stuff without having to build SOEs anymore. That means anybody can walk up to any PC in the organisation, login, authenticate and all those things come together on that device. That really is the key going forward and then whether you deliver that through a full desktop, an iPhone or a thin client. I think virtual desktop is a distraction and a step in the wrong direction.

FM: Another fundamental problem that hit thin clients early in the piece, and will also be a problem for virtual desktops, is the whole online situation. It suits some organisations but there are so many reasons why an online model simply doesn’t work. When you look at the capital investment needed to put the infrastructure in to allow it, and the real killer perception that you’re getting second best on a thin client where users are asked to take a hit for the team, it makes it a big step. Those are only perceptions, they’re not correct, but they exist in the industry. My personal view is that virtual desktop will suffer from that same perception as long as it remains an online model. If you can break the mould and take it offline then you’re really rocking and rolling.

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